Istanbul has a remarkable number of three star sights packed into a small area. It is an unavoidable consequence of being at the crossroads between Europe and Asia, between Christianity and Islam, and being a center power for the Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires. But as with all cities there’s more to see than just the grand buildings. The people, the streets, and, for the ever hungry, the food are highlights.
It is not easy to walk around Istanbul. Western Turkey has been geologically tormented for millenniums. Consequently, the city is anything but flat. It is said that Istanbul, like Rome, is situated on seven hills. We quickly learned that Istanbul’s seven hills are seven steep hills. Istanbul’s hilly terrain insures that a good view is never far away. It also means each day touring the city is a work out.
If you do work up an appetite on a walking tour there’s plenty of street food around. Storefronts sell doner kebabs, the ubiquitous meat roasted on a skewer that’s now available around the world. There are also local specialties adapted from western favorites. The wet burgers being pumped out at Taksim Square are the perfect after bar food served in a city with complicated attitudes towards alcohol consumption. If its time for dessert, Turkish Delights, the sugary confections often studded with nuts, can be found almost everywhere.
Amongst the hills and the food stops is a vibrant international city. A dose of street art is tucked away on the side streets. There are even a few Space Invaders remaining from the 2003 Invasion. As with all big cities the requisite local characters roam the streets.
My favorite piece of local color is a man I like to call Surlyman the Insignificant. Surlyman dresses as an Ottoman sultan, strolls about the tourist sites, and shouts demands for five Euros from any tourist who happens to turn and snap a photo in his direction. Being a sultan in today’s Istanbul just does not come with the same status that it did in Sultan Süleymaniye the Magnificent’s time.